Ernest Shackleton was a product of his time – the late 19th and early 20th centuries – one of those men strong-willed men who did audacious things. He formed the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition to be the first to travel across the southernmost continent. He lobbied for funding, outfitted a ship, and recruited a crew for the great adventure.
Thus, while Shackleton was undeniably out of place, even inept, in a great many everyday situations, he had a talent – a genius, even 0 that he shared with only a handful of men throughout history – genuine leadership. He was, as one of his men put it, ‘the greatest leader that ever came on God’s earth, bart noe.'”[p 12]
They cast off from their last land in South America on December 5, 1914. As they sailed south for their jumping off point for the journey by dog sleds they became stuck in the ice. They spent that Southern Hemisphere winter at the mercy of the ice.
On May 2 , their position showed a total northwest drift since the end of February of 130 miles. The Endurance was one microcosmic spec, 144 feet long and 25 feet wide, embedded in nearly one million square miles of ice that was slowly being rotated by the irresistible clockwise sweep of the winds and current of the Weddell Sea”[p 45]
And then in October as the season turned to spring and summer, their condition worsened.
When, at 6:45 P.M. on October 24, the pressure did arrive, it wasted no time. There had been pressure in the past, but nothing like this., It moved through the pack like a sluggish shock wave, making the entire surface of the ice into a chaos of churning, tumbling destruction. [Crew member] Macklin watched it briefly, then turned away in disbelief. ‘The whole sensation,’he recorded, ‘was of something colossal, of something in nature too big to grasp.”[p72]
Eventually, the crew had to abandon The Endurance which was crushed and sunk by the ice. Their efforts to move overland were rendered impossible by the uneven floes and ridges in the ice.
“Many of them, it seemed, finally grasped for the first time just how desperate things really were. More correctly, they became aware of their own inadequacy, of how utterly powerless they were.”[p 117]
As summer went on they mostly stayed in place. Eventually as southern hemisphere fall rolled around the floe they were on neared open water where they sheltered from an enormous storm the best they could. When the storm cleared, “Shackleton searched their faces for an answer to the question that troubled him most: How much more could they take?” [p 166
So, they set off one thousand miles across the Drake Passage, the stretch of water that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is the stormiest, roughest stretches of water on the planet and the crew set off to cross it in small open boats.
“… [T]hey burst from the line of [ice] pack into the open sea. The change was breathtaking. The northwest swell, which had been cushioned by the pack, now advanced up the boats in undisguised immensity
They made a pitiable sight – three little boats, packed with the odd remnants of what had once been a proud expedition, bearing twenty-eight suffering men in one final, almost ludicrous bid for survival. But this time there was to be no turning back, and they all knew it.” [pp 167-168]
After more trials and tribulations where the teams had to be separated, Shakleton led his men to rescue. Shacleton led a small group in one boat to South Georgia where he was finally able to get help to rescue his crew – but not without further troubles.
Shackleton was an excellent leader who led the entire crew to safety. As every trouble was overcome another arrived. If this were turned into an adventure movie script, it would be dismissed as unbelievable. And yet it happened; and Shackleton’s leadership, along with the will of the men, led to the crews survival. This is a fantastic telling of an epic journey. I highly recommend it. As a bonus there is a collection of photos of the journey that make a great supplement to the story.